IN the summer, the owners of Liverpool Football Club, FSG, sacked Kenny Dalglish. It was, for me, a seizmic event. It shook my whole view of what the game meant. And it left me having a rethink over how I ought to personally relate to the game. My wife once said to me, “It’s a waste of time, most of the time”. And she’s right. But mostly you feel everyone’s on the same side, and there’s spiritual sustenance to be drawn from that. So you keep on trucking.
But this, it seemed, was pivotal. If they’d sacked The King, then they’d better be serious about their solution. It would have to extend beyond a whim. Beyond some fly-by-night managerial appointment, and beyond smoke and mirrors. They would need to demonstrate their commitment to making the club work, with a joined up long-term plan, and a credible long-term strategy. They’d need to consolidate and build on the club’s existing strengths, while addressing its tendency to shoot itself squarely in the foot. And lastly, with those in place, they’d better back and support their new man, and give him the resources he needs to do the job. They’d better not leave him hanging out to dry like they had his predecessor. They’d better be serious.
So with that in mind, with people asking my opinion on who the new man ought to be, my mind turned to exactly those criteria. To long-term strategy, and to integration, and to practical matters like personal relationships.
At that time, I said in late May that I thought it should be Rodgers. Why? Well, he’d give them all those things, almost for free. All they’d need to do would be to back him, and put the right support structure in place behind the scenes. As I saw it, the club needed a foundation to build from. I’ll explain why.
Blueprint For Football
[With apologies to the brilliant Paul Grech for stealing the sub-heading from his excellent site – see here: www.blueprintforfootball.com ]
Rodgers, it seems, appeared at his interview with a weighty manifesto as to how he proposed to reshape the club. From root to fruit, the club would adopt a uniform approach to its coaching and its football – something that would both echo Liverpool’s traditions as a club, while informing its activities in other areas, most notably the transfer market. The club, and the players in each position, would have a clearly defined approach that informed its activities on all fronts. A joined up approach. Whether it’s being successfully implemented at first team level is of course the topic of currently heated debate. But we’ve seen evidence of its implementation throughout the club, with the recruitment of Alex Inglethorpe as Reserve team coach (a devotee of a similar approach), and the promotion of Rodolfo Borrell as Academy Director, a move that bakes in the pipeline of players suited to Rodgers’ approach. If you’ve been schooled by Borrell, chances are you’ll slot in quite well to the first team when needed. (Those questioning the repatriation of Thomas Ince maybe could possibly take note.)
We’ve already seen Sterling, Suso, Wisdom, and others stake a claim. The talents within the Academy have had a genuine sniff of first team success, and they’ll be infused with the motivation to make it happen – something we’ve maybe been lacking to date in our attempts to promote our players. Meanwhile, there’s talk of improving our use of the loan system in our players’ development – something that’s been long overdue in comparison with other clubs, arguably boasting poorer players than we’ve done at lower levels.
If you want the whole thing to run like Klopp’s Dortmund, then you need to give it time to happen. As the club develops from here, this uniform approach should be the foundation stone for all future developments. It’s the only way to punch above your weight long-term, and to support notions of being anything other than a cup team.
Transfer Disasters to Value Investment
Following disasterous activity in the transfer market for successive windows (not only the overpayments for players – also the alleged overrules which led to missing out on other opportunities), it was clear that, in the absence of a Commolli, whoever came in (manager and support staff) would need clear guidelines, boundaries, budgets (wages and fees), and terms of reference in this area. Everyone would need to know what their role was, and what the limits of that role would be.
As the debate raged, and the recruitment saga unfolded with Martinez supping his latte and Rodgers saying he wasn’t interested unless he was first choice, not to mention talk of Van Gaal and of Beguiristain as potential directors of football, it started to dribble out that the club had been exploring potential structures, and that instead of a standard Director Of Football, they may go with a committee-type approach. Come the day Rodgers was unveiled, he made it clear right from the off that he wouldn’t be beholden to a Director Of Football, creating an uncomfortable moment for Ian Ayre in the process. A committee it was to be, with someone in charge of sports science, someone in charge of player liaison, and someone in charge of scouting and recruitment. A structure, it seemed, that chimed with the ideas bubbling out of the club itself at the time, with Michael Edwards, an analyst within the club, seemingly central to the proposed architecture.
With Dave Fallows and Barry Hunter being put on gardening leave from Manchester City, and the club prepared to sit and wait for them to start before putting the new set up in place, it was clear a long-term, patient approach was being adopted, but it led to clear problems, with the close of the summer transfer window seeing Rodgers, like Kenny and Rafa before him, undermined in his transfer efforts by men in suits. At the 11th hour, the suits remembered to impose recruitment criteria they’d neglected to tell Rodgers about. Sturridge, boarding a plane to Monaco with Chelsea, was passed up in favour of Dempsey, who was all lined up (after a protracted and latterly embarrassing ‘tapping up’ saga). But at the death, FSG and Ayre realised that, after all that, Dempsey was too old, and that they’d have to pass.
The fans were enraged. But of course, it was OK, because FSG were being patient, and this was just a blip until the new committee was in place, and free from gardening leave. We’d address it in January, and the manager would have his support. The resources would be made available.
Fast forward to January, and it’s interesting to see Rodgers tell assembled bloggers and podcasters that certain elements of it all are out of his hands. It seems maybe Rodgers ended up with his Director Of Football after all, albeit in triumvarate form. As long as they’re all on the same page though – that represents progress. The intransigence emerging on, for example, agency fees, perhaps hints at an act coming together.
A Laurel and Hardy Handshake
It may seem trite, and ill-suited to the conventions of debate about football management, but when you work for someone, it helps if you get on with them. Yes, the way things have always been in our game, it ought to be the ‘Holy Trinity’, with the Directors and Chairmen ‘only signing the cheques’, but the reality nowadays, if it wasn’t always the norm, is that a manager will always struggle if he can’t communicate cordially with his employers.
Rodgers, whether we value it as fans or not (and some actively resent it, it seems), has established a good relationship with his owners, and with those he works with on a day-to-day basis behind the scenes. That, whether we acknowledge it or not, can only be in the interests of the club for the medium- to long-term.
The owners, and the men in suits behind the scenes. They must support their man. They must make it clear what his terms of reference are to the extent that it’s feasible to do so. They must reinforce his position, and his authority. Because without it, the whole thing could be sunk before it gets out of the dry dock. January will go a long way towards telling us if that’s the case. Rodgers, while he has a thing or two to learn it seems, has talent and vision. But those will come to nought without the right backing. We’ll all be watching intently over the coming month.